Vital difference between listening and hearing

THE HANS INDIA |   Dec 11,2018 , 12:45 AM IST

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All human activities are intertwined with listening. One cannot imagine one’s life without listening. But many people confuse listening with hearing; and they face disastrous consequences in turn. Actually listening is psychological and hearing is physical. In communication, listening only gets the things done, not hearing. Hence, all of us should know the difference between these two and get benefits accordingly. 

Ben Franklin’s remark: “The heart of a fool is in his mouth, but the mouth of a wise man is in his heart”, critically and intelligently enlightens the importance of communication in differentiating the wise - men and the fools. Communication is the means through which a person exchanges his or her experiences, ideas, knowledge and feelings with other persons.  This information can be expressed through both speech and body language. The primary purpose of communication is to establish trust for better relationship. This can be done by focusing on the following principles.


  • Adopting a positive, clear and specific communication.
  • Empathising with all people.
  • Learning to listen.
In today’s highly stressful world, communication is much more significant than ever, however we give the impression to allot less and less time to really listening to one another. Authentic listening has become a rare gift—the gift of attitude and mood. Authentic listening gives way to empathy, which helps in building relationship, thereby solving many issues and conflicts. 

At work place, effective listening leads to empathy and less wasted time; this in turn yields more production. At house, it brings out a congenial environment, from where self- reliant and confident human beings emerge. Listening establishes healthy relationships and fruitful careers.

Listening is a skill of vital significance in every walk of our life i.e. from maintaining our personal and professional relationships to getting every work done.  Apart from realising the fact that we are mostly engaged with listening, it's important to understand that listening involves more than hearing. Listening is an active course of action by which we make sense of, evaluate and respond to what we hear.

Listening is so important that, now-a-days, many employers provide training on listening skills to their employees.  Certainly, those attentive listening skills can lead to: concentration, self- confidence, interaction, clarification of ideas and thoughts, open mindedness, positive attitude; in addition to enhanced customer satisfaction, larger output, better sharing of information which in turn can lead to creative and pioneering work.

Many successful leaders and entrepreneurs acclaim their success to effective listening skills. Richard Branson frequently quotes listening as one of the main factors behind the success of any professional. Semiotician Roland Barthes characterized the distinction between listening and hearing as "Hearing is a physiological phenomenon; listening is a psychological act."

Active listening is an essential language skill. One of the most common mistakes people can make is confusing hearing with listening. Hearing refers to the sounds that one can hear, whereas listening requires more than that: it demands concentration.  Listening refers to not only paying attention to the content, but the way it is told, which includes language, paralanguage and body language.  It means that one should be aware of both verbal and non-verbal communication, while listening. The ability to listen effectively depends on the passion to which one can observe and comprehend these messages.

Hearing is merely sensing that someone is speaking. Listening, however, is making sense of what is heard and requires the individual to constantly pay attention, interpret and remember what is heard. Hearing is passive; listening is active. The passive listener is much like a tape recorder. If the speaker is providing a clear message, the listener will probably get most of what is said. For professionals, this is not enough. They must be active listeners. Active listening requires the listener to hear the words and identify the feelings associated with the words.

Active listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training and conflict resolution, which requires the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard. One doesn’t learn from talking; One can learn from listening.  "The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them” said Ralph Nichols.

There are four essential requirements for active listening:

  • Passion
  • Empathy
  • Acceptance
  • Enthusiasm to take responsibility for understanding
Since effective listening is a skill that establishes all optimistic human relationships, everyone should spend some time thinking about and developing listening skills; as they are the building blocks of success.

Listening is the most important part of communication, because if you fail to understand the message being expressed to you, you will also fail in providing a substantial and meaningful response. This is the root cause of many arguments, misunderstandings and complications, whether at home, society or work place. According to Bernard Ferrari's Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All, great listeners exhibit similar behavior i.e. they typically show respect to other’s ideas, maintain composure and challenge interpretations.

Inattentive listening and its effect
"Aswathama Hatha kunjara" means: Ashwatthama named elephant died, the story behind this incident is as follows: “This is an incidence of the battle of Kurukshetra on day 15th, when Guru Dronacharaya was at his best in slaughtering the Pandava’s army. Drona already killed King Drupada, King Virat and brave warrior Satyajit that day.

Witnessing this fearsome avatar of Drona, Yudhishthira and other chiefs of Pandava's army got worried because all of them can't even stand to face Drona, and Arjuna will never kill his favorite teacher. Analyzing this Lord Krishna devised a strategy to get an elephant whose name was Ashwatthama killed by Bheema and get this news across to Drona, so that he will leave his weapons and Pandavas can capture him.”

“When this news reached Drona, he couldn't believe anyone as Ashwatthama himself was a great warrior; so to check authenticity he asked Yudhishtira whether news was right or not. Lord Krishna knew Yudhishtira would never lie, so as soon as Yudhishtira uttered Aswathama Hatha, Lord Krishna blow his conch shell in a loud voice, so that Kunjara can't be heard by Drona.”

“Drona on hearing the partial truth, left his weapons and began contemplating and meditating, he was beheaded by Dhrishtdhymna, who was born just for the sole purpose of killing Drona.” The moral of this incident represents the consequences of inattentive listening. That's why, one must be alert while listening and one has to take a decision based on complete understanding, i.e. only after attentive listening.

 - K Saroja Devi



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